Thursday, December 11, 2008

Like a Bridge...

A couple of days ago I was running along the East river. It is just over 4 miles from my apartment to the Brooklyn Bridge. I like to run to the bridge, then walk up South Street Seaport, and catch the 6 Train home. When I run by myself I usually listen to podcasts of Greg Boyd preaching, or music. I hate running, by the way. Some of my buddies here roped me into doing a 10k run every Sunday morning, and I don't hate it as much when I have someone to run with. But to be able to do that once a week I have to run during the week- usually by myself. So the messages or the music help the time go by with a little less pain.

On this day as I ran under the Manhattan Bridge and saw the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance, the sun was beginning to set and the view looking out over the East River was spectacular. At that moment the next song began on my i-pod...  an old Simon and Garfunkel song- Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Paul Simon once shared that he got the idea for the song when he was passing by a country preacher, somewhere in Scotland I recall, and heard him say that Jesus was a bridge over troubled waters. Simon did not include the name "Jesus" in the lyrics, but if you insert his name whenever you hear the word "I", it fits.  Check this out:

When you're weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I'm on your side. when times get rough
And friends just can't be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

When you're down and out,
When you're on the street,
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you.
I'll take your part.
When darkness comes
And pains is all around,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

When I was young and listened to those words I never thought much about the meaning of the phrase "I will lay me down". As I continued to run along the river listening to the words I could see the meaning. There is no way I could get from Manhattan to Brooklyn without the bridge. I was incapable and stuck where I was. But there was a bridge. 

Life has its share of troubled waters we encounter. And as the lyrics of the song suggest, Jesus' offer to us is to be there and to be the way, that bridge over the troubled waters. If there is any doubt about that, remember that he literally laid down his life to make a bridge for us to see and know and be with God forever.

New Traditions

Last week our family picked out a Christmas tree at the corner of 19th Street and 1st Avenue, and then had the “joy” of lugging in 14 blocks to our apartment. It was a new and unique experience and a far cry from our long held annual tradition of driving to a tree farm north of Romeo, Michigan the Saturday after Thanksgiving, cutting down a 7-8 foot tree and hauling it home on the top of our van. Last year as we picked out our tree on a snowy day we knew that a special family tradition had come to an end. Christmas 2008 would be very different. And it is. It seems as though we blinked our eyes and here we are in a new and unrecognizable life as church-planters in the greatest city in the world- New York. Everything is new: Christmas shopping in the original Macys; (can you imagine a department store with 8000 employees?). The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade not on TV but in our “backyard”; the lighting of the tree at the Rockefeller Center; an ice skating rink dwarfed by  the skyscrapers of midtown; using subways and busses to get around as we do our Christmas shopping.  As I write this sitting next to our modestly sized and exorbitantly priced tree, I can look out the window down 33rd Street and see the top of the Empire State Building lit up for the holiday season. What change a year has brought! These will become our new Christmas traditions.

It has been nearly four months since we moved 650 miles east in response to God’s call to begin a new work in New York City. It has been very challenging and very joyful, although not necessarily both on the same day. We have learned much and know there is so much more to learn. And we have been amazed at God’s goodness to provide for us, to join us together with an awesome community of likeminded people, and to give us opportunities to touch lives with his love and grace.

As we move toward 2009 we are filled with a great sense of anticipation. This new year will bring great opportunities and challenges that we know we can only face with God’s help and direction. But our confident expectation is that he has led us here because he has plans to do great things to expand Jesus’ Kingdom and to make his outrageous love known. We are humbled to think that he has called us to play a part in his mission

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

No Hand Wringing, Please!

Last night I watched the election results from my new home here in New York City. CNN was my network of choice. The amazing technology, which included a hologram from Chicago beamed into the New York studio, combined with extensive analysis of every possible election related nuance had me glued to the tube for 6 hours. They ran their exit polls through a large number of variables, one of which was how white evangelical Christians voted. If memory serves me, McCain got over 80% of vote from that demographic.

During the coverage they would occasionally cut away to live video from Times Square. NYC  is definitely pro-Obama. At about 9 PM my daughter Megan and a friend headed over to Times Square to observe the mania first hand. They arrived shortly before Obama was announced as the projected winner. The place went nuts and the chants and screaming continued for hours.

So how will the 80% of white evangelicals respond? I pray with hope, and with support for our new president. When Clinton was elected to his first term I happened to be at a conference in Atlanta the following weekend where some of the top evangelical leaders were speaking. Most of them took the opportunity to share their conviction that we as a country were in deep trouble. They said things like "a dark cloud hangs over our country" and "our future is bleak indeed".  The audience joined in the hand-wringing. It seemed as though God himself was in a state of despair now that Clinton had won the presidency.

I see it differently. I see a New Testament church that flourished under a government that was just a little bit different than the democracy we still enjoy. I see through history the ability of followers of Jesus to adapt and adjust in all political climates. Truth is, the Kingdom Jesus announced and started can thrive in every and all circumstances if his followers commit to live as citizens of his Kingdom first and foremost. Not only can we then love our enemies, but we can love a president that we might not have supported. 

Some say we are headed toward socialism, but they say it in such a way that if it becomes reality, somehow we cannot carry on the work of Jesus. Nonsense. Try telling the Chinese Christians that.

So- no despair, no hand wringing- just resolve to follow Jesus, to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor, who happens also to be our president, whether he is a democrat or a republican.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Opening My Eyes

Last week I was walking in a hurry (which is how I always walk, which makes NYC a good fit for me) down Broadway from 42nd to 34th.  I was supposed to meet my 16 year old son Caleb. It was 5:30 PM and the streets were packed. A woman walking in front of me was carry two large bags in each hand, creating a blockade. People behind her were visibly irritated as their progress was slowed down. Finally I spotted an opening and shot past her, brushing her bags as I hurried by. I got about 5 steps and I heard that voice inside my head "As he went on his way, he saw...". These words come from John 9. The "he" is Jesus, and I have come to see that the way Jesus lived was not by a plan, a schedule, an agenda, but by responding to what he saw as he went on his way. So I have been trying to "see" as I go on my way. In fact, our Communitas family has been trying to learn to follow Jesus in this way. It's really simple: look at who and what is going on around, and when possible, act in a helpful, loving way. But it's not simple for one like me who schedules, over schedules, and hurries. If John was writing about me, he might write something like this: "As he hurried on his way, he walked right by...(fill in the blank)!

To make a long story short, I ended up helping this woman, who spoke no English, carry the bags to 29th street. I considered stopping at 34th and saying "This is as far as I go", but decided that this was definitely not what Jesus would do.  

I headed back to 34th to meet Caleb and I was late. But life went on, and we got done what we needed to. Did I change this woman's life? Nope. But maybe a small act of kindness, someone willing to slow down and see and act meant something to her. 

I am learning the opportunity to love God and love others is all around me, if I will just open my eyes and see as I go on my way.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Sky is Falling!

This has been a volatile week on Wall Street, which is now in my back yard. I have to confess that I pay very little attention to the world of finance. I have never had much money to invest or to lose. The only market that concerned me the last few years was the price of a barrel of oil, and now that I don't own a car anymore, I don't even know about the price of a gallon of gas. I hear that it has been dropping, but then I also heard that Ike caused a spike!

It was impossible to ignore the chaos these past few days here in NYC. On Monday the media trucks with their satellite dishes mounted on top were lined up for blocks outside of Lehman Brothers on 7th avenue. Clearly this was big news. So I turned on the TV, read the NY Times and Wall Street Journal to try to understand what was going on in this city that I now call home. And I talked to my neighbors dressed in business suits on their way to the office as we rode down the elevator together. Anxiety is clearly the mood of the day.

My own anxiety hit me in an unexpected way. I have nothing, or rather very little, tied up in the markets. But a friend in the finance world told me that the "recession" had finally hit NYC, and then I did become concerned about the timing of planting a church in this city. Perhaps the unrest and insecurity will open hearts to the message of Jesus. But I have to raise money to get this church off the ground! What is happening this week can't be a good thing in terms of our fund-raising efforts!

It seems that since we heard the call to leave Michigan to come to NYC to plant a church, the odds have continually been stacked against us. The housing market fell hard in Michigan so that none of our launch team members have yet sold their homes, including us. Many have struggled to find jobs in NYC. And now this.

As I pondered these thoughts this morning, my mind went to a story about a man named Gideon. He was about to face a army much larger than his own, and God told him that his army was too big. How can an army be too big?  Nevertheless, Gideon was asked to reduce his army to the point where the odds were overwhelmingly against any victory for Gideon. That is when God said he was ready. God knew that if the army was large, that is where the credit for victory would go. But if there was no way on earth that they could win, then victory must have come from an unearthly source.

This story helped me remember where I must put my confidence and trust. In God. He is not surprised by or anxious about a financial crisis. He is not dependent on the wealth of this city or the financial markets to do what he wants with Communitas. I learned again that my anxiety always comes when I forget who I work for. I repent! The greater the odds against success, the more God gets the credit when victory comes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Chris and I look forward to using this space to chronicle, from time to time, this incredible journey we find ourselves on, and the lessons we are learning along the way. We find ourselves unexpectedly in a place we could never have imagined. Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit and living, for the most part, our entire lives in Michigan, we wake up now everyday in one of the largest and greatest cities in the world. Some days my first thoughts are "what in the world am I doing here?" 

Then I remember. We are here because Jesus said "follow me" (to NYC), and we said yes. My yes didn't come easily or right away. It has been two years of me learning to "leave my nets", loosening my grip on my stuff and my life and my success, and deciding again if Jesus is worth following... if he is really worth my life. I have always answered "yes" to that question since I was a child, but I have found at this season of my life that I have to be confronted again about whether or not my life is my own. It seems clear to me now that all of my life I will be asked to revisit that question.

What I do see now is that Jesus wants to disrupt our lives- to keep us from clinging to the familiar, the places of safety and security with no risk. As I get older a part of me wants to settle down and take it easy. But at least for now, what I want more is to discover all that Jesus has for me. As Paul put it, as he neared the end of life sitting in a prison,

I want to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of me...

That's what I want- and I know he disrupted my life and brought me to Manhattan to help me lay hold of that for which he laid hold of me.

September 9, 2008